Written by Loren Grush
It’s difficult for patients to absolutely know if they have Parkinson’s disease.
To date, the only way to diagnose someone with Parkinson’s is to do a clinical exam to access his or her symptoms. And in order to definitively get an answer, an autopsy is performed on the brain – only after the person has died.
But now, a conclusive clinical test may soon be available. Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Arizona have found that examining a specific portion of a person’s saliva gland may be able to diagnose someone with Parkinson’s.
The idea to focus on such a small part of the human body came when lead author Dr. Charles Adler conducted a long-term study, examining people for Parkinson’s and dementia – for the course of their lives. Once the patients in the study had died, Adler and his team would perform whole body autopsies, looking at all the organs in the body.
“[During the autopsy] you can see the protein alpha-synuclein” – an abnormal protein associated with Parkinson’s disease – “and we find that in multiple areas of the body as well,” Adler, with the Mayo Clinic Arizona and a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, told FoxNews.com. “However, the area that seemed to be most dense in the body was the submandibular gland – the salivary gland right under the jaw.”
Currently, the way to determine through autopsy if a person has Parkinson’s is to look for an aggregate of proteins called Lewy bodies in the mid-section of the brain. One of the proteins located in the Lewy bodies is the alpha-synuclein protein. Because of the protein’s association with Parkinson’s, Adler felt confident the protein’s location in the gland was specific to the disease.
After identifying the salivary gland to be significant for Parkinson’s patients, Adler conducted another experiment, examining all of the submandibular glands of his autopsy patients. Of his already pre-determined Parkinson’s patients, all 28 of them had the alpha-synuclein protein in their submandibular glands.